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By Paula McIntyre, co-founder of Up North Foodies

When Gary Nabhan visited northern Michigan earlier this month to lead a group of locals in identifying traditional foods at risk, I was stumped. The cherries and whitefish that first come to mind when thinking of our typical Up North menus are still prevalent. And the foods I remember from childhood are more of the Midwestern casserole variety; not a specific potato, or chicken or mushroom.

Stores and restaurants usually don’t list the varieties of their foods, with apples being a notable exception. And the generic term “heirloom” is the only hint a label might provide that a particular item isn’t your standard fare. I’m not conditioned to think of specific varieties.

So I wasn’t sure how much I could contribute to the conversation, and as it turns out, several other participants shared that same initial reaction. Perhaps the sheer size of Michigan’s list of potential at-risk foods intimidated us. Fifty wild foods and more than 300 historically cultivated foods were included, ranging from Frost Grape, Oswego Tea, and Aunt Mary’s corn, to the Shiawassee Beauty apple, the Beltsville White Turkey and Ayers Butternut.